In this community‐based cohort of US adults without cardiovascular disease at baseline, we found that higher adherence to an overall plant‐based diet or a pro-vegetarian diet, diets that are higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods, was associated with a lower risk of incident cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, and all‐cause mortality. Healthy plant‐based diets, which are higher in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea, and coffee and lower in animal foods, were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and all‐cause mortality.
Our study is one of the few studies that used data from a general population. Prospective studies of Seventh‐Day Adventists in the United States and Canada found that vegetarians had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and all‐cause mortality compared with nonvegetarians.4 The EPIC (European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition)‐Oxford study of vegetarians, vegans, and health‐conscious individuals reported that the risk of incident ischemic heart disease and deaths caused by circulatory disease was lower in vegetarians than nonvegetarians.5, 24 However, these findings were not replicated in population‐based studies in Australia and the United States.6, 13 Notably, a prior study that used data from a nationally representative sample administered a brief questionnaire that assessed the frequency with which participants consumed specific types of animal food (red meat, processed meat, poultry, or fish or seafood) to characterize participants’ dietary intakes.6 Such dietary measurement may not have adequately represented dietary patterns on the basis of abundance of plant foods relative to animal foods. The plant‐based diet indexes we used in this study captured a wider spectrum of intake of plant foods and animal foods, leveraging the available dietary data, and allowed us to move away from defining plant‐based diets strictly based on exclusion of animal foods.